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Why Pacific women are taking back their hair – ABC News

Hair can be a big part of your identity — however you choose to wear it.
But the decision about how to wear your hair is not as easy as choosing a ponytail or a bun for Pacific women, as Western beauty standards have long dictated how to wear and maintain hair.
Often that leaves women struggling to find a hairdresser outside of the Pacific who understands all the coils, curls and kinks that makes up Pacific hair.
That's exactly why Ella Rowe, an Australian-Papua New Guinean woman, set-up her own salon in Melbourne with the goal of decolonising hair.
"I often felt like people wanted to experiment with my hair," Ella told Radio Australia's Sistas Let's Talk program.
"When I talk about decolonising the hairdressing industry … it means that I want to centre BIPOC people.
I want our stories, our hair, our culture, our identity, to be at the root of the practice."
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While Wallaroos rugby star and ABC TV host Sera Naiqama embraces her "strong Fijian hair" now, that wasn't always the case.
From a very young age, Sera was chemically straightening her hair to "help with the day-to-day".
"But as a result of that, I really damaged my hair. It started to break in weird places," she says.
Since then, Sera has experimented with a few different styles, both on and off the field.
But while the styles she wears between the rugby field and the TV screen might change, her comfort hair style is up in a bun.
"Growing up, I always wanted my hair tied back because I didn't want it to be boofy, to give people a reason to ridicule my hair," Sera says.
"Whether it's on the field or it's in front of a camera, my hair will always be up because that's my comfort."
She says while it can be frustrating to get her hair to cooperate, there is beauty in her natural hair.
"It's a blessing to have this hair because it's also a reflection of my roots and my heritage and the land that I come from," Sera says.
Curls, kinks and coils. For women and girls in the Pacific, growing up with these hair textures is a struggle, especially as they compete with European beauty standards.
Tarisi Sorovi-Vunidilo is a Fijian anthropologist who wears her Buiniga – a traditional Fijian afro style — with pride.
As a child she had very short hair, almost to the point of being "bald".
But as she entered her 20s, she realised not many young women were wearing traditional styles.
"They would be someone much, much older, the same age as my mum," Dr Sorovi-Vunidilo says.
"So no wonder the definition of beauty has changed, because there's not many people that look like me — that look like this."
Western beauty standards brought into the Pacific by colonisation greatly impacted on cultural rituals around hair and the respect given to the head of the body.
Dr Sorovi-Vunidilo says some cultural rituals may have been stopped by missionaries under the guise of cleanliness and hygiene.
But in recent years there has been a rise in young Pacific women embracing their natural hair and beauty, thanks in part to social media.
"I'm beginning to see some pages of young girls celebrating their hair," she says.
"Young girls who look like me, with hair like this, post their photos and I see these young girls celebrating it.
"And it's so beautiful."
The natural hair movement seemed like a space built just for Thandi as she embarked on her natural journey — until she looked a little closer.
Dodi Doiwa has worn some bold hair styles in her life, from two-toned dreadlocks to bleach blonde extensions.
The Papua New Guinean woman has 4C type hair texture, which is known as one of the tightest type of curl.
She describes her hair as "steel wool grass".
"I didn't like my hair a lot as I was growing up. I think I always compared it to what I thought was pretty, but also easier to look after," Dodi says.
Her father and sisters had soft curls that "didn't break combs", unlike her hair, so her hair was always either very short or chemically relaxed.
Eventually, Dodi came to see her hair as an "avenue of expression", experimenting with playful styles as her way of taking back control over her hair.
"I enjoy the different styles I can do, but I enjoy just the afro too," she says.
"I have the freedom to express myself through my hair, through my body.
"It … belongs to me, I have control of it and can do with as I please."
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